This article is a lightly-edited summary of the key takeaways from our speakers’ appearance on our podcast, “The Shape of Work.” If you haven’t listened to our show yet, be sure to check it out here. These speakers have an incredible stable of startup experiences to draw from, the kind of stories that are unbelievably helpful for HR/people managers to hear.
In this episode of The Shape of Work, we welcomed Susan Lang, a Fortune 50 Senior Executive turned entrepreneur.
Guest At a Glance:
Name: Susan Lang
What she does: CEO, XIL Health – a technology and analytics company that develops analytics platforms to aid firms in the USA with drug pricing.
Find her on LinkedIn.
Get Smart: “Companies don’t know how to manage people who are remote because they don’t know how to manage people that are actually on-site either.”
In this summary, you will receive valuable insights on:
- Breaking free – geography should not be a consideration while hiring talent.
- Managing people in the remote/hybrid workplace.
- Strategies for managing employee turnover.
- Steps to more effective remote working.
- How is company culture shaped?
Motivations for a career in healthcare
Susan believes that only the healthcare industry helps in the “melding of head and heart”. The industry is constantly changing technologically and is always in mission mode – making it highly challenging. This has never been in greater focus than now – during the pandemic. The pandemic has exposed the frailties of the global healthcare system.
Remote Work – Breaking Free from the Bounds of Geography
XIL Health is based in six states in the US. The firm’s entire tech team is based in Bangalore, India. Given the intensely competitive nature of business today, to stay competitive, firms need to reach out to the best talent – wherever they may be on the globe. XIL Health hires talent from across the world. Its employees are given complete freedom to decide where they want to work from – home or office. Susan is surprised that some larger and more connected tech firms, such as Apple, Amazon, and Google — even as the pandemic is being brought under control — are asking their employees to return to their offices.
Managing People in the Workplace of the Future
Apprehension among firms, about remote work, arises from their inability to manage people well even when they are on-site. Being goal-driven is key to good management. Instead, firms build layer upon layer of control. Managers need to be familiar with the work of each employee and the impact their employees’ work has on the organization.
This is possible only if the firm has a well-defined business model. Most firms do not have a business model, and their work cultures tend to be personality-driven (the CEO’s or the CHRO’s). The absence of a business model and a lack of congruence between the personal values of the senior leaders and the employees cause friction at work. This friction can get exacerbated in the remote/hybrid workplace.
Strategies for Managing Employee Turnover
Surveys in the US indicate that 40-50% of the employees, especially in the tech sector, are actively looking to change jobs. In such a scenario, for remote work to succeed, firms must set clear goals for their employees. Additionally, leaders need to be more communicative and engage (even if they are of short duration) frequently with the employees to hear their concerns – this enhances engagement. Such interactions help the leaders in identifying top talent and grooming future leaders. Employees, who are not engaged, become targets for poaching by the competition. Also, the work culture should be such that it appeals to the widest possible cross-section of employees.
To counter high attrition and increase retention in the tech sector, novel and creative reward strategies such as profit sharing, retention bonuses, stock options, etc., are required. The leaders should articulate the corporate mission clearly and help the employees understand how they can align themselves with the vision, find their fit, and work to make a difference.
Making Remote Work Effective
The availability of capital increased startup activity, and the limited pool of good tech talent has led to a rise in salaries. This causes an exodus of talent from the relatively poorly funded firms. The leaders of these firms are, therefore, too caught up with managing attrition to be able to pay attention to culture and engagement — further worsening attrition.
Susan says that she hires people when they are young and finds out what they are comfortable and not comfortable doing. XIL Health then tasks these employees with jobs that they are not comfortable doing. This challenges them and helps them learn how to manage and work around challenges to get to the goal. This is an excellent strategy to groom better executives for the firm in the long run. The nature of the task that employees get to work on is a huge determinant of their effectiveness.
Co-located employees learn from their peers, seniors, and subordinates through casual interactions as they ‘drive by’. This aspect of employee interaction is absent in remote work. To compensate for this, leaders and managers should have informal chats to apprise employees on the work of the other teams, planned business initiatives, etc.
Shaping Company Culture
Firms need to foster a culture of calculated risk-taking. While success is to be rewarded, failure should not be penalized. This is especially important for firms targeting rapid growth. Maintaining open channels of communication across the hierarchy of the firm increases engagement and enhances productivity.
Susan believes that high-growth companies need to align their work cultures with the needs of the employees. Employees at tech companies are engaged in complex tasks, and therefore the work needs to be integrated with their lives. The workplace policies should provide flexibility, enable employees to take care of their families, and allow enough time off for them to de-stress. The work should be designed to not “burn through” the employees.